Northern Ireland news

Victims' group asks for more clarity over institutional abuse bill progress

Margaret McGuckin and members of SAVIA speaking to victims' advocate Brendan McAllister. File picture by Hugh Russell

A VICTIMS' group has welcomed the introduction of a bill aimed at compensating historical institutional abuse survivors but said it needs more clarity around when the bill will become law.

The long-awaited bill to set up a compensation scheme was introduced to the House of Lords on Wednesday - the first stage of the process to pass it into law.

For more than a decade, campaigners have lobbied for compensation for victims abused in children's homes.

The new bill includes the establishment of a redress board, made up of judicial and lay members, which will decide how much each abuse survivor should receive in compensation.

A new commissioner, who will act as an advocate for abuse victims, is to be appointed as the part of the bill.

Margaret McGuckin, of Survivors and Victims of Institutional Abuse (Savia), said the introduction of the legislation was positive.

"We're delighted with it," she said.

"We're just trusting in him (Secretary of State Julian Smith) that it will go through."

Ms McGuckin said the group has written to Mr Smith to ask for clarification on several points, including how long it will take for the bill to become law.

She said the group still hopes that interim payments can be given to elderly and ill victims while the redress bill is going through Parliament.

The group met Sue Grey, permanent secretary of the Department of Finance, on Monday to discuss the possibility of interim payments for some victims

A second reading of the bill, which will include a general debate in the Lords, is scheduled for Monday, October 28.

The bill will have to go through several further stages in the Lords before it is introduced to the Commons. Only after several stages in the Commons will it become law.

It is almost three years since the Historical Institutional Abuse (HIA) inquiry exposed serious sexual, physical and emotional abuse over decades at children's homes run by religious orders, charities and the state.

It recommended compensation payments, an apology and care packages for victims and survivors. But the process stalled due to the collapse of Stormont in January 2017.

Brendan McAllister, the interim victims' advocate, said the introduction of the bill is a "hugely important development".

"An Act of Parliament is required to establish a Redress Board, and a compensational scheme for victims of institutional abuse," he said.

"I wish to congratulate the Secretary of State and his officials for seizing the day and getting the parliamentary process under way."

He said the bill needs to be properly discussed in Parliament to ensure it is in the best interests of survivors.

"The challenge now will be to scrutinise the bill while ensuring that it receives a speedy passage through both Houses of Parliament," he said.

"The sooner there is an act, the sooner we will have a redress scheme up and running."

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